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Dear Azami: Don’t Think

Tired of the same old stuff in Commander? Bored of working on Animar, Rafiq, and Zur decks? Levi Byrne is flexing his creative muscle with this week’s reader and their seldom seen leader!

SCG Tour <sup>®</sup>Atlanta Open Weekend June 4-5!” border=”1″ /></a></div>
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<p>Hello all. I don’t have much to say this week for prologue, so I’ll just leave you with this before we dive into the deck of the week: I seem to be developing a strong bias towards the Golgari colors.</p>
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Dear Azami,

One of the things I love about Commander is the huge creatures. There are the “regular” huge creatures Terastodon, Verdant Force, and most high-converted mana cost Demons, and then there are the exceptionally huge creatures like Malignus and Lord of Extinction. There’s power in Commander that we seldom see in any of the other format.

But another thing I like about Commander is puny-fying big creatures. Oh, you have a 10/10 trampler? Well, how about I toss on some -1/-1 counters and then use Vhati il-Dal to kill it? And that legendary creature is the focus of my deck. As I alluded to, it is all about diminishing my opponents’ fields and wiping them out on by one. Or a lot at a time. I’m not picky.

Darkblast

Festering Goblin

Tragic Slip

Sol Ring

Hex Parasite

Nihil Spellbomb

Viridian Longbow

Juvenile Gloomwidow

Thornbite Staff

Nameless Inversion

Sakura-Tribe Elder

Elvish Visionary

Contagion Clasp

Fevered Convulsions

Glistening Oil

Golgari Charm

Golgari Signet

Rampant Growth

Magewright’s Stone

Swiftfoot Boots

Illusionist’s Bracelets

Rendclaw Trow

Cinderbones

Corrosive Mentor

Necroskitter

Quillspike

Tower Above

Farhaven Elf

Wood Elves

Reclamation Sage

Thousand-Year Elixir

Caltrops

Screams from Within

Grim Return

Puppet Strings

Shambling Swarm

Bullwhip

Rod of Ruin

Night of Souls’ Betrayal

Reaper of the Wilds

Skinrender

Peregrination

Explosive Vegetation

Pestilence

Incremental Blight

Bloodgift Demon

Caustic Crawler

Plaguemaw Beast

Thrashing Wumpus

Vulturous Zombie

Spread the Sickness

Chainer, Dementia Master

Midnight Banshee

Carnifex Demon

Harvester of Souls

Contagion Engine

Ascendant Evincar

Staff of Nin

Grim Poppet

Grave Betrayal

Pestilence Demon

Black Sun’s Zenith

Evolving Wilds

Terramorphic Expanse

Temple of Malady

Command Tower

Myriad Landscape

Golgari Rot Farm

Golgari Guildgate

Grim Backwoods

Jungle Hollow

Woodland Cemetery

Blighted Fen

Blighted Woodland

Terminal Moraine

Jund Panorama

12 Swamp

11 Forest

I’ve been working with this list in pretty much this form for the last year or so. I love the power it has to wipe out opposing armies, but I have noticed that it lacks a reliable end-game. The deck is pretty dependent on opponents playing creatures, so once they are all dead, I’m left with some moderately underwhelming beaters. I would love for this deck to be able to take switch gears more easily between offense and defense.

Another hiccup is in the realm of recursion. Once my stuff dies, that’s pretty much the last I’ll see of it. But I am unsure as to which Regrowth options or other recurrence options would be best.

Beyond that, for a deck I label in the control archetype, there is not a lot of card advantage. And I’m not sure what to take out, or even what to put in to fix that problem. I feel like there are so many on theme cards in the deck, that if I were to take out one of those, I would be damaging the deck’s flavor.

Some cards I have found to be somewhat underwhelming:

Grave Betrayal — often a Time Walk for my opponents, as the next player invariably has a Krosan Grip or some other such card ready for it.

Chainer, Dementia Master — I thought he would be a powerful end-game, but relying on my opponents’ graveyards has failed me too many times.

Most Wither Creatures — Wither is so on point flavor-wise, but Rendclaw Trow? The Troll doesn’t seem particularly well suited for Commander.

Cards I adore:

Necroskitter — This is the card I usually want Grave Betrayal to be.

Corrosive Mentor — Giving the majority of my creatures wither is beautiful. I love this with Vulturous Zombie, Bloodgift Demon and many other beefy beaters.

The Contagion artifacts — They really make the deck hum once they get going. I consider them both linchpins to the strategy.

Thanks for any advice!

Adam

Vhati il-Dal is a strange legend. I’ve looked at him a few times and always dismissed the possibility of building a deck around him because of how different his ability is from everything else out there. That, and the fact that my control deck of choice was mono-black, kept him off my radar for the most part. That being said, this gem of a deck caught my interest. Adam did an excellent job of building around Vhati’s ability, but the support structure isn’t quite there.

The Creatures

Out

You said that most of the wither creatures felt weak, and I have to agree. Unless your metagame is hyper-aggressive, you don’t need Rendclaw Trow, Juvenile Gloomwidow, or Cinderbones to chump block for you. Festering Goblin has all of the same power-level problems, except it doesn’t even leave the creature weakened past the turn it dies. Similarly, unless you have Vhati il-Dal loaded up with Illusionist’s Bracers and/or untap effects, the “temporary counters” from Shambling Swarm will only let you kill one thing before they go away. As Skinrender only targets one creature, it’s basically an expensive, two-card version of Murder that happens to get around indestructibility. You can do better.

Ascendant Evincar seems like it would be a great card for this deck, but without knowing what your metagame looks like, I’m not willing to risk his pump ability pushing enemy creatures out of Vhati’s kill range.

In

There isn’t much to say about Eternal Witness. It’s one of the best value creatures out there, so play it. Sadistic Hypnotist comes in to give you a little bit of game against decks that aren’t reliant on creatures to win. I’ll also be adding a little token creation to the deck to fuel the discard engine, but that’s in another section.

One of your chief complaints was that the deck lacked convincing win conditions, and Lord of the Void and Massacre Wurm deliver in that department. The Wurm turns every creature you kill into a little shot of damage and also mops up small tokens when it enters the battlefield. Lord of the Void is a very respectable beater in its own right, and every time it hits it should find another threat for you to play.

The Artifacts

Out

You really overloaded on ways to kill things at one toughness. I’m fine with cutting this pair of artifacts and counting on the rest of the deck to do its job, especially since you don’t want to be leaving mana up to always be able to activate these.

In

An old favorite of mine, Cauldron of souls is a great way to protect your battlefield from all sorts of threats, and with the likes of Quillspike and Hex Parasite floating around, you can use it over and over again.

The Enchantments

Out

Let me ask you this: How much is the ability to put a -1/-1 counter on a creature worth when it doesn’t cost you a card? Even in this deck, I don’t think the answer is four mana. Fevered Convulsions just seems overcosted and inefficient as a result, the kind of thing that’s only good once you’ve already ground the game to a halt. Glistening Oil is a good way to grind out value turn after turn, but I’d always be paranoid about getting infect-killed in the time between when the Aura goes on and when the first counter gets placed.

Now, I know that you said Grave Betrayal is often overwhelming because someone always has a Naturalize for it, but I’m keeping it for two reasons. First, if there’s a card that your opponents always kill on sight, that’s good. It means the card is threatening enough that they have to deal with it, or die. Second, unless it’s literally always Krosan Grip that gets pointed at Grave Betrayal, you should be able to get back at least one creature with it by pointing Vhati’s ability at the best creature with a -1/-1 counter on it already. Don’t run it out there when you don’t have the ability to kill anything, and you’ll get at least some mileage out of it.

The Spells

A quick note before I get into the individual cuts in this section: I cut your kill spells pretty close to the bone, because even for a control deck, you simply had too many cards that removed creatures and didn’t do anything else. This is also the section where I made the most additions to fix your problems with card advantage and recursion, so there are some pretty drastic changes ahead.

Out

Mostly this is what I said above, cutting any removal that doesn’t hit multiple targets and can’t be used again. The one outlier is Peregrination, which I’m upgrading to Kodama’s Reach. Normally that would be a fairly straightforward switch, but there’s a little more going on here…

In

Anyone who’s been watching Standard recently knows what I’m doing here. Two of the biggest problems you mentioned in your submission were a lack of card advantage and a lack of recursion. Assuming that you can navigate around counterspells, this engine will do both.

Seasons Past is one of the best Regrowth effects they’ve ever printed in its own right. Late in the game, it can easily return seven or more cards in one shot, but the real magic happens when you draw either of the tutors. Cast Diabolic Tutor or Dark Petition to get Seasons Past out of the deck, and then use Seasons Past to return the tutor, along with several other cards. Cast the returned spells for value, re-Tutor for Seasons Past, and repeat the whole process over and over again.

As long as you can keep this loop going, you’ll be able to grind out a basically unlimited amount of card advantage, repeatedly returning ramp spells like Rampant Growth, Kodama’s Reach and Explosive Vegetation, creatures your opponents killed off, draw spells, kill spells, and anything else that would be lying in the graveyard. This engine informed a lot of my card choices and is the main reason that I shifted the overall deck composition to be more spell-focused.

I wanted at least one card-draw spell, and I wanted it to be something that wouldn’t cost you a lot of life if you wind up repeating it through the Seasons Past loop. In Golgari colors, that means Harmonize.

Kodama’s Reach is simply a cheaper version of Peregrination and is a great piece of ramp in any green deck. Feel free to substitute Cultivate if you want. What might be more surprising is the inclusion of Nissa’s Renewal. Many of the various end-games I’m building into the deck involve having a lot of mana. A lot of mana. So having a more high-impact ramp spell that also gains you a sizeable chunk of life is a good piece to have while you’re transitioning into the late-game.

Worm Harvest can give you a ton of blockers or sacrifice fodder for Sadistic Hypnotist. Even a lowly Worm token is enough to kill an oncoming attacker thanks to Vhati’s ability, and after you’ve taken over the game, those tokens can finish off a vulnerable player rather quickly. There is the potential for it to be made irrelevant by Night of Souls’ Betrayal or your sweepers, but the recursive ability of retrace makes it worth that risk.

Speaking of sweepers, the greatest weakness of this deck is static pump abilities, including +1/+1 counters. Aether Snap gives you a way to simultaneously wipe out armies of tokens and bring any creatures pumped up by counters back down to vulnerable range.

One of Vhati’s greatest weaknesses is that he can only kill one creature at a time. You have Equipment to help alleviate the problem, but if you can give all creatures -2/-2 for the turn, Sudden Spoiling will destroy a player’s entire battlefield in one swoop, and they can’t respond to it.

The last two cards I’ve added are win conditions, pure and simple. Rise of the Dark Realms will give you every creature that’s been killed in the course of the game, which with this deck in the game should be almost everything.

Exsanguinate is a common sight at Commander tables, and for good reason. You’re not going to ramp to 40 and kill people from full health, but it can be brought back again and again with Seasons Past, and even firing it off for a relatively small number will give you an enormous life buffer while weakening your opponents.

Putting it together, here’s the finished decklist:


And the additions, sorted by price:

Card

Cost

Worm Harvest

0.29

Aether Snap

0.49

Diabolic Tutor

0.65

Kodama’s Reach

0.99

Nissa’s Renewal

0.99

Sudden Spoiling

0.99

Exsanguinate

1.29

Sadistic Hypnotist

1.99

Harmonize

2.99

Lord of the Void

4.99

Eternal Witness

5.99

Dark Petition

6.99

Seasons Past

6.99

Cauldron of Souls

7.99

Rise of the Dark Realms

7.99

Massacre Wurm

9.99

Total

61.60

The changes add up to $61.60, although for once that price tag isn’t the result of one or two monstrously expensive cards. As always, Adam will receive $20 in store credit to StarCityGames.com to help him upgrade his deck.

Before I go, there’s one thing I want to let you know about. This is the last you all will be hearing from me for a few weeks. As you’re reading this, I’ll be packing up the last of my stuff in preparation for my move tomorrow, and soon after I’ll flying out of state to take a week off. (I’m actually pre-writing this article by a week, so I haven’t seen any of the Eternal Masters spoilers yet.) I’ll be back in mid-to-late June, but the next few articles you get will be from Sean.

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!

Email us a deck submission using this link here!

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